It’s been a whirlwind of a season for Oregon’s club hockey team.
The team went 8-4 in the Pac-8, won the heated I-5 Cup over Washington after the Ducks beat the Huskies in all four games this year, and then came the icing on the cake.
Oregon won its fourth Pac-8 championship in the club’s ninth appearance in the conference championship tournament, beating California in South Lake Tahoe, California, on Sunday.
“The boys played incredible this weekend,” head coach Rylee Orr said. “It’s great to see everyone bought into exactly what we want to do as coaches. We can beat anyone.”
Against No. 1 south division seed Cal, Oregon had to deliver a near-perfect performance after beating No. 1 north division seed Boise State the day before.
In the championship game, junior forward Nathan Lutz scored in the first period to open the scoring, taking the Ducks into the first intermission leading 1-0.
The game remained 1-0 until freshmen Zach Schultz and Jack Geraghty each scored in the third and final period to give Oregon the 3-0 win. Oregon freshman goaltender Grayson Parkes earned the shutout as the Ducks were crowned Pac-8 champions.
Oregon beat No. 2 south division seed San Diego State in the first round on Friday in a sensational comeback.
The Ducks led 2-1 after the first but trailed 3-2 going into the third period. The Aztecs scored twice in the third and led 5-2 with less than six minutes left in the game. Then came the comeback.
Oregon scored five goals in the final minutes of the game to win 7-5 in regulation.
“I played hockey for 24 years up in Canada, and I’ve never ever seen anything like that,” Orr said. “As coaches, you don’t want to give up on your team until that final horn, but I mean doubt was starting to creep up into our minds.”
Oregon earned a five-minute power play after San Diego State’s Tyler Smith was whistled for charging. Orr used the opportunity to call timeout and set up a plan.
“I laid it out there: ‘You guys, this is our opportunity, the door’s open. [If] we can score some goals on this power play we’re right back in it.’ Kudos to the team,” Orr said. “Not many teams down 5-2 with five minutes left are going to come back. It’s incredible.”
Six different Ducks made up the seven goals with sophomore Connor Rendell as the only multi-goal scorer.
“I think after the first two games, we were feeling confident,” junior defenseman and team captain Warren Berg said. “Everyone believed that we have what it takes to win today.”
The Ducks had another huge test against Boise State one day later. Parkes had a stellar game between the pipes, making 37 saves to keep the Broncos at bay, allowing his team to take the 3-2 win and advance to the championship game.
“I think he’s been our MVP this year,” Orr said. “Obviously there’s a handful of guys who can have that MVP status, but he has exceeded all our expectations going into the year. He went above and beyond, and it’s kind of become expected at this point in the year. We know that he’s going to be a rock back there. If we can play well in front of him, we’re going to have a chance to win”
With the game tied 2-2 and the clock ticking down, Oregon had a chance with under three minutes left. The puck fell to Rendell at the point, and he launched a shot toward net, where Schultz lingered. The freshman got his stick to the puck and redirected it past Boise State goaltender Kyler Ayers for the game-winning goal.
Oregon went 1-3 against Boise State during the regular season.
“We definitely went into that game with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder,” Berg said. “We knew that if we were physical with them and move the puck well, it would work out for us.”
The Ducks play in the American Collegiate Hockey Association division-2, which houses the Pac-8 conference.
Up next for the Ducks is the ACHA West Regionals in Tempe, Arizona, starting on Feb. 28.
“I think if we play like this, if we all work together and play as a team, we can beat any team in the West,” Orr said. “If we play like this, we are an extremely dangerous team. I don’t think any of those teams want to match up with us.”
Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow